ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMSEmotional symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include depression, nervousness, anxiety, shakiness, irritability, excitability, volatile mood swings, rapid emotional changes, fatigue, bad dreams, and difficulty concentrating. Emotional symptoms may be mild or very severe, depending on a number of factors including the patient’s level of addiction, the length of addiction, the body’s ability to tolerate change, and the patient’s emotional readiness.
Physical symptoms may also range from mild to very severe and can include loss of appetite, headaches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, insomnia, rapid heart rate, clammy skin, pupils that dilate unevenly, tremors especially of the hands and jerky and uncontrollable movements of the eyelids. Severe symptoms may include fever, hallucinations, confusion, black outs, agitation, convulsions, and in some cases although rare, death or coma.
Alcohol withdrawal can set in quickly for a heavy and consistent drinker, sometimes as early as 5 hours after the last drink. Others may experience withdrawal symptoms as long as a week after the last drink. Additional health problems increase the likelihood of the patient’s experience of withdrawal.
To keep patients as healthy and comfortable as possible during withdrawal, a physician may check on the patient and determine what the severity and level of their withdrawal may be. For severe withdrawal, medication can be prescribed to help ease the symptoms. The physician will first run a toxicology test in order to determine the alcohol level in the blood. The physician will then check for rapid heart rate, uneven heart beat, liver failure, dehydration, elevated body temperature, rapid breathing, shaky hands, abnormal eye movements, body tremors and sweating, and internal bleeding. Assessing both the patient’s condition during withdrawal as well as the overall physical condition and damage which may have occurred from alcohol abuse is vital to helping the patient find their way back to health.
ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL TREATMENTTreatment options almost always require a form of hospitalization, both for the patient’s protections and to determine they adhere to the completion of withdrawal without drinking to make their symptoms go away. This also allows physicians to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, electrolytes, and fluids in the body. Sedatives can help ease the severity of the symptoms, especially those which have the potential to become life threatening. Benzodiazepines are often used in easing the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Liver failure, heart attacks, and other life threatening events have been known to happen during withdrawal. In rare cases, patients have died from removing alcohol from their body. Addictions this strong usually have affected the patient for decades and have cost them jobs, careers, and families. Though very uncommon, hallucinations without additional symptoms can occur. Fever, delirium, irregular heart rate, hallucinations, and severe confusion can be indicators of a potentially life threatening withdrawal and should only be handled by a medical professional in an appropriate setting.
ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL TIMELINEAfter a period of time without alcohol in the body, usually referred to as a drying out period, additional testing is often done to determine the extent of the damage caused to the body by the chronic use of alcohol. Physicians are looking most particularly for blood clotting disorders, alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disorders, chronic brain syndromes, malnutrition, and alcoholic neuropathy.
Rehabilitation programs are almost always recommended for any patient who experienced alcohol withdrawal. If the body wasn’t addicted to alcohol, then the withdrawal would not have occurred, as this should become evident to the patient that they have a problem.
Some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will last much longer than the average week that most withdrawal symptoms plague a patient. Symptoms such as rapid mood changes, fatigue, insomnia or sleeping difficulties, or lethargy may last anywhere from 3 weeks to 12 months.
Patients who return to drinking after going through withdrawal will likely have to experience withdrawal again. Avoiding alcohol altogether is the only way to ensure that the patient does not develop any further significant health problems.